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A Winter Marriage
     

A Winter Marriage

by Kerry Hardie
 

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Divorced three times and recently widowed by her fourth husband, Hannie Bennet is an unapologetic professional wife, marrying for financial security instead of love. When she meets Ned Renvyle, writer and world traveler, Hannie believes she's found a suitable new mate: he's in search of a wife and companion as he settles into his twilight years on a farm in the

Overview

Divorced three times and recently widowed by her fourth husband, Hannie Bennet is an unapologetic professional wife, marrying for financial security instead of love. When she meets Ned Renvyle, writer and world traveler, Hannie believes she's found a suitable new mate: he's in search of a wife and companion as he settles into his twilight years on a farm in the Irish countryside where he was raised.

But what at first seemed to Hannie like a convenient union quickly becomes a personal prison. Her unflinching cool and lack of sentiment alienate her from Ned and the townspeople, and when her troubled teenage son comes to visit, she must maintain a deception so potent it threatens the entire community. Soon, Hannie finds herself in a maelstrom of blackmail, deceit, and violence, forced to make the most impossible choice a mother can confront.

Author Biography: Kerry Hardie grew up in Northern Ireland and studied English at York University, England. She has worked for the BBC and for the Northern Ireland Arts Council. She received the Friends Provident National Poetry Prize, and she lives in County Kilkenny, Ireland, with her husband, Sean.

Editorial Reviews

The Boston Globe
Ultimately, in Hardie's extraordinary novel, love isn't quite enough to heal or even, necessarily, to preserve what's left after the tragedy. Which makes A Winter Marriage almost as tough to read as life sometimes is to live, though equally worthwhile. — Nan Goldberg
Publishers Weekly
Readers of Hardie's first novel may conclude early on that it's probably best for anyone with lots of secrets not to move to a claustrophobically nosy village in Ireland. Too bad, then, that 52-year-old serial wife Hannie Bennet is so desperate to marry again that she flouts this sensible dictum. At a friend's wedding in England, widowed Hannie meets Ned Renvyle, a much older writer looking for a wife, and they agree to a pragmatic marriage he gets a companion, she gets to share his money. Settling on Ned's farm in the Irish countryside, Hannie soon discovers that enduring the snooping of the snobbish community may be too high a price to pay for financial security, particularly when her disturbed teenage son, Joss, arrives. His increasingly menacing behavior further underscores the differences between her and the villagers and eventually drives her to reveal a tragic secret from her past. An intelligent, subtle writer, Hardie paints a convincing picture of the compromises of domestic life. She explores questions of aging and mortality, idealism and cynicism, "nature versus nurture" and the responsibility that comes with marriage as she takes Hannie's story to its dark but hopeful climax. Sometimes Hardie overreaches, piling the philosophy on too thick and diluting the power of Hannie's revelation. Still, if readers are willing to indulge these meditations, Hardie's debut will leave them wondering what else this provocative writer has up her sleeve. (Dec.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
This first novel introduces Hannie Bennet, a widow and three-time divorcee visiting friends in England and looking for husband No. 4. When she meets Ned, a much older gentleman, they marry and return to his estate in Ireland. There, Hannie begins to doubt the choice she has made while waiting for her son, Joss, to arrive. As the story unfolds, we learn about Hannie's past and the dark secrets she keeps. While the story is suspenseful and the language often lyrical, readers will find it hard to get past their utter dislike for the characters. Hannie seems no more than an opportunist, her mood sour owing to her unhappiness at having misjudged Ned's worth. Joss is a selfish, twisted adolescent, and Ned is a pushover. Those looking for novels addressing relationships between younger women and older men would be better served by Joanna Trollop's The Men and the Girls or Anita Shreve's Fortune's Rocks.-Nanci Milone Hill, Lucius Beebe Memorial Lib., Wakefield, MA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A somber, haunting debut novel from Irish poet Hardie about a world-weary, financially desperate woman who seeks security for herself and her son by marrying an elderly Anglo-Irish farmer. Born in Java of mixed parentage, cold-blooded, mercenary Hannie has always lived off men. But her looks are fading with middle age, and she's penniless after her most recent failed marriage. So Hannie leaves Africa for England, where she meets and marries Ned, a former journalist and world traveler now retired to a farm in the Irish countryside of his youth. They enter marriage pragmatically: Ned wants a companion; Hannie needs financial support and a home for herself and 14-year-old Joss. But once ensconced on Ned's farm, Hannie feels excruciatingly isolated and unhappy, while Ned is crushed by her unwillingness to reach out to his Anglo-Irish friends and family. To make matter worse, Joss (who arrives from Africa shortly after the marriage) is a deeply troubled boy, possibly psychopathic. Hannie senses the inexorable pull toward disaster as Joss spends more and more time with Ned's tenant, a lovely and innocent would-be artist named Niamh. The author slowly and relentlessly probes her characters' psyches: Hannie's seeming amorality covers a deep sense of loyalty; Ned's growing love for his wife collides with his sense of social duty; Joss is both unreachable and heartbreakingly needy. Notable among the equally complex cast of supporting characters is Ned's housekeeper Mrs. Coady, Hannie's unlikely soulmate, who understands maternal passion because she has lost a child of her own. Tensions build as secrets are half-revealed, but ultimately this elusive novel defies easy summary because so much of theplot occurs in the smallest details and between the lines. Hardie allows no sentimentality or easy conclusion. Despite the reader's early assumptions about who is moral and who is not, in the end it is Hannie who must forgive Ned's betrayal. Difficult, dark, and uncompromisingly fine.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780316076227
Publisher:
Little, Brown and Company
Publication date:
12/03/2002
Edition description:
1 AMER ED
Pages:
400
Product dimensions:
6.34(w) x 9.46(h) x 1.36(d)

Read an Excerpt


A Winter Marriage



By Kerry Hardie


Back Bay Books



Copyright © 2000

Kerry Hardie
All right reserved.


ISBN: 0-316-60847-5





Chapter One


SHE MET HIM AT A WEDDING she had gone to only because she needed a
husband and a wedding wasn't a bad place to begin looking.

She didn't try to hide much from him, which was sound judgment
because he didn't know much about women and he couldn't have talked
to a woman who wasn't straight with him. But more than judgment,
Hannie had luck. She met Ned when he was looking anyway, so most of
the work was done for her. And he took to her, he liked her crooked
straightness from the start.

She came from nowhere, had no family, no country and no background.
None of that would have mattered only she had no money either so she
needed somewhere to live, something to live on. She was fifty-two,
she made no secret of it, nor of the fact that her need for a
husband was overwhelmingly financial.

That didn't put Ned off. Nor did the fourteen-year-old son she'd
left in Africa while she came prospecting for their futures. Ned
didn't know what he wanted when he met her, he'd only just admitted
to himself that he wanted anything at all, so her directness eased
things for him. He didn't know it, but he couldn't have coped with a
woman of delicacy who left him to do the running, and he couldn't
have coped with awoman who wasn't an outsider.

So the way of it was she decided Ned might do and she got around Tom
and Beth so they helped her, and Ned went along with it not because
he was trapped by her as his friends thought, but because she was
what he wanted all along.

SOCIAL SITUATIONS were what she needed, and introductions to the
right sort of men: men who didn't know her history or reputation,
who might be charmed and cajoled into taking her on. By luck a widow
this time not a divorcee, she still had a few respectable
connections to exploit, so when she decided on taking this trip to
England she phoned the Grenvilles from Kenya and asked Beth for a
bed.

"For the wedding," she said. "Maybe a day or two after, I'm not sure
of my movements. So much to be taken care of-Andrew's English
estate-London-Andrew's solicitors ..." She left it vague.

Strictly speaking, she hadn't asked, she'd just said her piece and
then waited, knowing that Beth wouldn't be able to let the silence
run on. Beth was soft, everyone knew that, most of all Hannie, who
was anything but soft. There were other people she could have asked,
but she didn't. If you were going to use someone, best choose
someone trustworthy who assumed that you were the same until they
were reminded that you weren't. It wasn't long before Beth was
reminded, but by then it was too late.

The wedding invitation was more luck. The bride had been Andrew's
goddaughter, the embossed invitation had come in the post a bare six
weeks before he died. Andrew had answered at once: congratulations to
his little Sophie (not so little anymore, it seemed); he and Hannie
would most certainly be there to see her married. Between this
acceptance and his death a few weeks later he had issued his
ultimatum and Hannie had left.

But Sophie didn't know this and neither did Sophie's parents, who
wrote their commiserations when the death notice appeared in the
London Times. The letter was addressed to Andrew's widow, Hannie
Bennet.

Hannie wrote back that she would be in England on business matters
and she very much looked forward to this meeting with Andrew's old
friends and his goddaughter at her wedding.Andrew had spoken of them
so often, she felt it only right to be there as his representative.

She sealed the letter, trusting they wouldn't yet have heard the
gossip. Even if they had, they'd hardly write and tell her so. Or
make a scene when she turned up at the church.

SHE WAS STILL AN ATTRACTIVE WOMAN, Beth thought, watching Hannie
sitting at a table on the lawn. There was the usual wedding marquee
but the day was fine and dry, the tables had all been moved outside.

Very attractive, whatever Tom might say. Tom liked more grooming:
nice hair, a little makeup, something finished in the look. Yet he
woke up when Hannie was around, he pretended he didn't, but he did.

Any fool could see she was trouble, Tom used to say; there were
always nods and murmurs of agreement from his listeners. Beth
thought men saw the trouble and they liked it, even Tom. They liked
the aloofness, the lack of involvement, the way she walked by
herself.

Hannie had kicked off her shoes under the table, her hair was
sunbleached and she wore a not-new dress in faded gray. Beth pulled
the floral frock she'd thought she liked so much down over her
stomach. She wished she'd tried for elegance not prettiness. She
wished she didn't care that her waist had broadened and her stomach
bulged. She wished that, like Hannie, she didn't try to hide it.

Funny how it looked all right if you didn't care. Except it probably
wouldn't on her. She resolved to eat less, walk more. She knew she
wouldn't. She resolved to stop worrying so much about what she
looked like, to "accept" herself (that curious language that her
children spoke). Hannie had just done that thing she did when she
stopped being interested by whoever it was she had been being
interested by. Switched off the light and gone out. Beth had almost
forgotten that trick, the way she could not-be-there, like an
abandoned puppet, a rag doll left out in the rain. Men always fell
for it, they suddenly got frantic that she wasn't listening anymore,
wasn't interested when she had been, so intensely. Funny how easy it
was for some people.

IT DIDN'T FEEL easy to Hannie. It was all smooth and smart and
understated, all grooming and opinions. She had to wrench herself up
to the mark, make herself perform, not give up and go under. She
felt blunt and shabby and old. And tired, really tired.

She met Ned through a young woman called Jessica who'd sought her
out and introduced herself.

"My mother knew your husband. She said you might be here. I'm to
offer you her sympathies."

Hannie hovered for a moment on the edge of paranoia. She dismissed
it. This Jessica would neither know nor care about the marital
gossip of another generation on another continent.

"She knew the family. Years ago in Oxfordshire. She had a thing
about the oldest brother." "Edward," Hannie said. "Edward," Jessica
agreed. "You must tell me how he is. She'll want to know in detail-"

"He's dead. Died before I ever met him." "Really?" Jessica sounded
quite interested. "My father will be relieved.

Edward was her untraveled road. She does rather tend to let herself
regret him out loud when she's cross."

Jessica was tall and slender with gray eyes and perfect skin and
perfect self-possession. A woman, not a girl, nearer thirty-five
than twenty, her voice was clear and well bred and she wore a loose
green linen dress, which showed off her wavy, fair hair. She was
like daylight, Hannie thought, not liking her.

She had a man with her, following a few paces after like a dragged
anchor, so that he didn't seem to be with her though he was. He
caught up with her and stood almost beside her and she introduced
him. Ned Renvyle.

Hannie shook hands. He was very tall and bony, with a full head of
fine gray hair. The hair was much younger than the face, which was
tanned and folded into long broken creases like the wandering
courses of wadis in the dry season. The eyes were withdrawn and
almost invisible between deep lines and puckers.

Jessica had finished with Hannie, she had inquired about her
mother's old flame and was ready to move on, but a sudden eddy of
people pressed into them and the space for retreat closed.
Resignedly the two women began again. Ned Renvyle stood and
listened.

Jessica worked in broadcasting, a producer not a secretary, Hannie's
assumptions smoothly corrected. She spoke briefly of a series she
was executive-producing, throwing in a couple of observations that
were meaningless to Hannie but made Ned Renvyle nod appreciatively.
It was all gracefully done: self-aware, modest, informative. Hannie
glanced at the hands. Jessica wore no rings.

"What do you do?" she asked Hannie. Her tone was pleasant,
conversational.

Your turn, it said, I've done my bit. What you don't do, Hannie
thought. Live off men. When I get the chance.

"Marry," she said starkly.

Jessica looked startled. Hannie was startled herself, she probably
hadn't intended to say it aloud, she wasn't entirely sure. The bony
old man twitched slightly, the wine jumped in his glass. He had been
watching Hannie closely while seeming not to. Jessica laughed. She
lifted her glass as though to drink to Hannie but it was empty. Ned
Renvyle automatically held out his hand for it.

"Perrier water," Jessica said. He held out his hand for Hannie's
glass. "Red," she said. He turned and bored his way through the
crowd. "So you're currently out of a job?" Jessica asked lightly.
Hannie nodded. "I am looking for a new position." "Oh?" Jessica
said. "That must be tedious. Wouldn't you rather a break?"

"Economic necessity," Hannie said. Jessica looked at her curiously.
It seemed to occur to her that Hannie was serious. Her interest was
almost caught-it was the tastelessness of Hannie's remarks. She
seemed about to speak but a tall, impeccably dressed man with a
thatch of straight brown hair was shoving his way furiously through
the crowd.

"That was Ned Renvyle," he accused as soon as he reached her. "I saw
you talking to him, couldn't get near you ... Honestly, Jessica,
why didn't you hold on to him? You knew perfectly well I wanted to
meet him."

This was not a boyfriend, Hannie realized, nor a lover awaiting
divorce. This was a consort or a partner or whatever these things
were called now; a husband she hadn't yet bothered to marry. Jessica
introduced Hannie, but the man hardly glanced at her. "He didn't
want to meet anyone," Jessica continued calmly. "He wanted to hang
on to someone so he didn't have to. I can't think what he's doing
here. He's terribly shy-"

"Shy? You're talking about a man who marches up to headhunters and
invites himself round for a year or two. He's not shy, Jessica,
explorers aren't shy, for a halfway intelligent woman you do talk a
load of crap."

"Shy in this sort of company. Stop making such a fuss and go and
find him yourself. He's gone to get us drinks, but he's probably
forgotten by now. Mine's Perrier water, Hannie's is red wine." She
spoke like a mother ignoring a child's petulance.

He glared at her and headed off after Renvyle. Then he stopped,
turned on his heel and came back. He addressed Hannie. "Sorry," he
said. "Very rude of me. Bit of an obsession." He wheeled and stomped
off again, ignoring Jessica. "It's true," Jessica said. "The
obsession bit. He read the books when he was a boy and just
completely fell for them."

"What sort of books?" "Travel. The Gentleman Adventurer. More
Thesiger than Fleming, but slightly later and not so well connected.
Quite obviously incredibly brave, only never ever written like
that. Touching, really." She paused, her eyes on a woman who seemed
anxious to shepherd them toward the lunch tables.

"Of course, they're hopelessly out-of-fashion and out-of-print and
cluttering-up-the-secondhand-bookshelves. I shouldn't think Ned
Renvyle's royalty checks are exactly keeping the mice from his
door." "Where is his door?"

"Oh, Ireland somewhere." Jessica spoke in a neutral voice. "Old
family. You know the sort of thing. Nettles and decay."

HANNIE DIDN'T, and it didn't sound very promising. Still, she wasn't
exactly being bombarded with opportunities; she might follow it up
for want of anything better.

She scanned the tables, found her name on a bit of card and picked
up the one from the place setting next to it.Three tables up, she
found Ned Renvyle's name card. People were beginning to take their
seats but she ignored them, leaned over and changed his card for the
one in her hand. She went back to her table, sat down, and put Ned's
card on the setting beside her.

JESSICA WAS RIGHT, Ned Renvyle lived in Ireland. Hannie had listened
for an estate but heard only a house, a farm. A family farm?

No, not a family farm but the next best thing. A farm near the places
and people he'd known in his childhood. He'd bought it when he left
off roaming around the place and came home.

Home? He was an Irishman? His family had lived there for
generations, he said, not answering her question. But he wasn't a
farmer?

He was now. Before that, he told her, he'd mostly traveled, written
the odd book, given lectures, that sort of thing. There'd been some
rooms in London where he'd lived when he wasn't away. Now he farmed
a few acres. Nothing much, but it kept him occupied. He lived alone.
Been married once, his wife had died. He was over for this wedding.
And to see his publisher, visit friends.

THEY WERE SNARLED in a long line of traffic with no visible reason
for the holdup. Hannie sat in the back of the car, staring absently
out of the window while Tom and Beth bickered about Beth's choice of
route. Ireland. She hadn't thought of Ireland, had never been there.
It might be the answer. He was on the lookout, she knew that, just
from the things he'd said this afternoon. And he'd taken to her, she
knew that too.

She'd have to find things out, she decided: how much land, if there
was money to go with it, if there were any commitments. You couldn't
rely on family anymore, Andrew had said. Or schools. A chap could
sound right and have nothing. These days, there was more likely to be
money if he sounded wrong.

Ned Renvyle would definitely have sounded right in Andrew's book.
Hannie didn't care what a chap sounded like as long as he wasn't
flat broke.

She could probably hook him if she played him right, she thought,
and he might be the start she needed. She could always leave him if
she couldn't stand him, but he must be pushing seventy, he couldn't
live forever, she might just stick it out until he died.With a bit
of luck he'd leave her somewhere to live or enough to live on.With a
lot of luck he'd leave her both.

If he turned out to have anything at all. But she'd have to let him
do the next bit. She wondered how fast he would move if he made up
his mind to it. She wondered how fast she could move in her turn. If
he did as he'd told her he planned to do and went up to London,
she'd have to follow him, invite herself on someone. She couldn't
afford a hotel, couldn't put all her eggs in one basket at this
stage when nothing might come of it.

But he might not go to London, he might stay on. And if he did,
she'd stay on too. She'd tell Beth the truth, or a version of it,
ask for her help. Beth would understand. Not like that blond bitch
at the wedding with her career and her salary and her future.

She would explain about the separation, which she hadn't so far
mentioned. She would tell Beth there'd be no money coming, even
after the will was settled, Andrew's children would inherit; she was
broke and needed to marry again.

They'd hear it all anyway, and there was no predicting when. Africa
gossip, it might take a while, but it would permeate through in the
end.

Continues...




Excerpted from A Winter Marriage
by Kerry Hardie
Copyright © 2000 by Kerry Hardie .
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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